The Modernization of LAX

Written by Michael Kelly


LAX’s modernization is playing a significant role in driving L.A.’s economy – by 2023 LAX will have spent more than $14 billion to renovate and rebuild the airport. Additionally, a recent study by LAEDC found that LAX’s operations create 620,610 local jobs, and its on-going, capital-improvement program, another 121,640 annual jobs, generating $37.3 billion in labor income, $126.6 billion in business revenues (output), $6.2 billion in state and local taxes, and $8.7 billion in federal tax revenues. Additionally, LAWA purchased more than $1.9 billion in goods and services in fiscal years 2014 and 2015.

Mitigating Congestion in the Central Terminal Area

Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA), which operates LAX, is looking to mitigate traffic congestion within the airport’s central terminal area and they are studying the development of an Automated People Mover (~ $2.5 billion) to connect travelers and airport workers between LAX’s terminals and L.A. Metro’s Crenshaw/LAX line ($2 billion), which is set to be completed in 2019. The Automated People Mover would back in and out of the Central Terminal Area since LAX’s layout is too constrictive to allow a loop around the terminals.

The challenge – the People Mover is not a revenue generator and it would not generate enough ridership by itself to justify its existence. Therefore, LAWA wants to development an Intermodal Transportation Facility ($500 million) that would allow passenger drop-offs, bag checks, parking, a meet and great area, and the development of a consolidated rental car facility ($850 to $1 billion) along the route to generate a higher user rate.

LAWA is also looking into roadway modifications that would direct incoming airport traffic to pass by the Intermodal Transportation Facility, therefore providing drivers an addition drop-off option. This may be matched with a congestion fee to deter airport traffic from entering the Central Terminal Area.

L.A. Metro estimates that about one to two percent of LAX’s 70 million airport bound passengers would use the bus or rail and they are working with LAWA to advance the most cost effective way to connect the public rail at Aviation Blvd. to the People Mover.

Additionally, LAWA has been spending some of the $118 million dedicated to alleviating LAX traffic by adding traffic signals, LED street lights, a departures-level road retrofit, and the development of Central Terminal Roadway and curb improvements such as a new lane of traffic.

All of the proposals linked to these elements must undergo environmental review, preliminary design and engineering and an extensive procurement process before entering the project delivery phase.

Terminal Upgrades

LAWA, in partnership with United Airlines (Terminals 6,7,8) is spending more than $400 million in upgrades at its three terminals to help improve passenger experience. Plans include, improving passenger security screening checkpoints, installing a better baggage sorting system, renovating passenger waiting areas, replacing boarding bridges and building a new lounge for premium customers.

Upgrading terminals has been a priority for LAWA and the L.A. Coalition because most of LAX’s facilities had not been substantially upgraded since before the 1984 Summer Olympics in L.A.Other terminal upgrades being funded by LAWA: Alaska Airlines implemented nearly $300 million worth of upgrades completed in 2012; Delta Air Lines implemented more than $200 million for its makeover of Terminal 5; and Southwest Airlines is also planning a full renovation of Terminal 1, which is expected to cost about $400 million.

The $300-million makeover of Terminal 2 will include new eating areas and shops is expected to be finished in 2015. The new terminal will feature an open-space hub that connects to a dining terrace and the Strand, an open dining and shopping space. It also will add tech stores InMotion Entertainment and eSavvy. Terminal 2 served more than 5.5 million travelers last year. It houses Aeromexico, Air Canada, Hawaiian Airlines, Virgin Atlantic and other airlines.

Update: In December 2015, Delta signed a letter of intent to rehabilitate LAX Terminals Two and Three ($1B plus potential spend) and connect them to TBIT on the Northside, and to move there from Terminal Five. LAWA’s BOAC will have an open session meeting to discuss the project this month and nothing happens unless the airport and the Los Angeles City Council approve the deal.

The goal is to complete the project in time if L.A. is the winning bidder for the 2024 Olympic Games. This move would give Delta more gates, closer to its partner airlines on the north side of the airport, and the ability to create a first-class customer experience, similar to other large terminal projects the airline has completed at its other key hub airports of JFK, ATL, LGA, and DTW ($3B+ spend at these airports alone). Delta currently uses 16 gates, including 13 in Terminal Five and three in Terminal Six. It’s too soon to say how many gates new terminals would provide.

Midfield Satellite Concourse

This seven-year $1.25 billion project will include an approximately 800,000 square-foot, five-level concourse with 11 aircraft gates located on the LAX airfield, approximately 1,300 feet west of the New Tom Bradley International Terminal (New TBIT). The gates will accommodate a variety of aircraft types up to and including the Airbus A380 and Boeing 747-8i. The concourse will be approximately 132 feet wide (east-west) and 1,295 feet long (north-south). Airfield improvements including new taxiways/taxilanes, aircraft apron, and service roads surrounding the concourse, as well as utility lines and facilities for domestic water, fire suppression water, sanitary sewer, storm drains, natural gas, electrical, fuel and communications infrastructure. Underground tunnel facilities will provide passenger, baggage, and utility connections between the MSC and TBIT. The construction cost includes a public art allowance calculated at one percent of construction cost for terminal public areas.

North Runway

LAWA and the L.A. City Council have already approved a proposal to move the north runway 260 feet north, but litigation and politics have stalled its advancement. It is expected that this fall a judge will rule on whether a lawsuit by Culver City, the City of Ontario and the County of San Bernardino and other litigants will move forward and overturn the Council’s and Board of Airports Commission’s votes. LAWA could still move forward with the State’s (CEQA) and Federal Government’s (NEPA) environmental review process, for which the runway could take up to 10 years, but the Mayor has decided to place this lower on the modernization priorities list. In a perfect world LAX could be fully modernized by 2025.

Workforce Development Idea for LAX?

New York’s JFK Airport has a Aviation High School and its classroom has six wheels, two wings and a tail. It is a Boeing 727, parked on the tarmac near the hangars and warehouses. The first-class seats have been stripped down to expose their metal innards, and spun around to face a whiteboard. Aviation High is a highly sought-after school in the nation’s largest school district. It’s funded by New York City’s department of education and accredited by the Federal Aviation Administration. The JFK school is a large annex of Aviation High’s main campus in Long Island City. All told, there are about 2,200 students.

They graduate with a diploma and a license that lets them work in the aviation industry. The JFK campus is reserved for some of the school’s best students in their final year. They take all the normal courses, plus classes on turbine engines, pneumatic power controls and airflow systems. Since airplanes are full of complicated systems that require physics and math, the students often get to try out concepts they’ve learned in the classroom: coordinates, angles, rotation. Every student on the JFK campus is paired up with an airline, like Delta, and works alongside a technician or engineer. Now Aviation High School partners with eight companies, including Delta, JetBlue and British Airways. He estimates that 12 percent of aircraft technicians in the country come from Aviation High Schools. Ninety-nine percent of the class has jobs offers right out of high school and some students are already making a hundred thousand dollars a year. The vast majority of students from Aviation High School also go to college. Some go to top universities, many go to local colleges and a handful go to military academies.